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‘Billie Holiday’ star Andra Day on what helped her most to play the real-life jazz singer

For her first lead role, Andra Day portrays the iconic singer Billie Holiday in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

The actress intensely prepped for the part researching the jazz star’s career, music, and personal life but it was a video on YouTube that actually helped her most get into character. 

“Google, I guess, proved to be the most useful [tool]. Reading, like every book that I could. But there’s particularly there is a clip on YouTube where Billie is just sort of talking with her band,” Day described to Fox News while promoting the film.

“She’s talking with the players and with the arrangers. And she’s just kind of shooting the s–t. She’s in her headspace. She’s singing,” the “Rise Up” singer continued. “Telling stories, laughing, just talking.”

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Day said watching that clip really gave her a “good picture of [Billie’s] voice and just her moods and her character and how she is in each of these different states.”

In director Lee Daniels’ adaptation, Day plays Holiday in the last years of her life as addiction and hardship have worn her down. Holiday passed in 1959.

Andra Day plays jazz singer-songwriter Billie Holiday in 'The United States vs Billie Holiday.'

Andra Day plays jazz singer-songwriter Billie Holiday in ‘The United States vs Billie Holiday.’
(Takashi Seida/Paramount Pictures via AP)

The film, which will drop on Hulu on Feb. 26, follows Holiday in the 1940s when a Black federal agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), is ordered to help get her arrested for heroin use and stop her from singing her anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit.”

“What I respect most about her was her determination and her ability to stand up to the government. She was just determined to do it her way. I don’t think she looked at herself as we do, which is now a civil rights leader,” Daniels told Fox News. 

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Singer Billie Holiday is pictured here recording her album 'Lady in Satin' at the Columbia Records studio in December 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Singer Billie Holiday is pictured here recording her album ‘Lady in Satin’ at the Columbia Records studio in December 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Rhodes echoed the sentiment. He told Fox News he was taken aback by the “depth of her struggle.”

“I mean, we knew [about] her drug addiction. We knew that she was having trouble with the FBI, but we didn’t know how much trouble,” he added. “We didn’t know the extent of why… so just having the opportunity to look up all these things was really beautiful and eye-opening.”

Andra Day as Billie Holidays in Lee Daniels' 'The United States vs Billie Holiday.'

Andra Day as Billie Holidays in Lee Daniels’ ‘The United States vs Billie Holiday.’
(Takashi Seida/Hulu via AP)

Holiday has previously been played by Diana Ross in the 1972 film “Lady Sings the Blues” and Audra McDonald in the 2014 Broadway play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.”

Ross’ son, Evan Ross, stars in the film and was already informed about Holiday’s contribution to music and civil rights. 

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He told Fox News, “I’ve known the story obviously really well through my mother’s performance and doing my own research…. but I had no idea about Harry Anslinger [then-commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics] and what he was trying to do and taking down Billie Holiday because of the words in her songs.”

“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” premieres Friday, Feb. 26 on Hulu. 

FOX’s Ashley Dvorkin contributed to this report.


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